We love our towering Doug-firs, cedars, and hemlocks here in Olympia, but they do tend to detract from the clouds don't they? Luckily, thanks to our varied topography, we have a wealth of cloud-viewing spots around town where you can enjoy big-sky views and the parade of clouds. Generally speaking, open areas, spots along the waterfront, and school sports fields, are a sure bet. The I-5 corridor and shopping mall parking lots are great, though I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip in your car to cloudwatch in these places. Better to find yourself in a natural setting or surrounded by interesting architecture. Here are some of my favorite spots.
Overlook Point Park, Tumwater. Very small City of Tumwater park at the water tower with territorial view of Olympia and Mt. Rainier. Picnic tables. A great place to hunker down and watch the fog move. The park is at 1205 Barnes Boulevard SW (Barnes Blvd is also 7thAve. SW)
Law Enforcement Memorial and Switchback on Capitol Campus, Olympia. Lovely view north and northwest over Capitol Lake, downtown, Budd Inlet, Black Hills, and Olympics in the distance. Seating is available on marble railing and benches on the switchback trail.
Bill Frank, Jr. Trail, Olympia. Off Marine Dr. NE This is the recently renamed and expanded park that comprises the East Bay Trail and NorthPoint Park and trail along Budd Inlet (around Swantown, Olympia Area Rowing, the parking lot on top of former Cascadia Pole, and KGY-Radio, to Hearthfire Restaurant). Benches and picnic tables along the trial.
Priest Point Park, Olympia. Water front beach on Budd Inlet provides fabulous views from Capitol Dome to the south and Olympics to Northwest. Main entrance is directly off East Bay Drive NE; smaller parking area off East Bay Drive on Flora Vista Dr. NE provides shorter access trail to water.
West Bay Park, Olympia.Off West Bay Drive NW, Olympia. This City of Olympia park is great for expansive views east across West Bay, to the Capitol dome, Mt. Rainier and north to Olympics. Benches, picnic tables.
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge A popular place for birdwatchers—fantastic for nearly 360-degree sky views. Walk to the end of the boardwalk and you'll feel like you've traveled to the ends of the earth!
Here are a few of my go-to resources for help with cloud i.d., science, and weather.
NOAA/NWS www.weather.gov Enter your zip code in the box on the left and get current conditions, forecast, and 3-day history by the hour for your locale. This is your source for cloud codes and altitudes. The Home page is featured in this screen shot (above).
The Cloud Appreciation Society www.cloudappreciationsociety.orgThis is a web-based organization to unite cloud lovers around the globe. Founded by Gavin-Pretor Pinney, author of The Cloudspotter’s Guide, the society shares cloud news, art, video, poetry, and questions.
Citizen Science NASA Globe Observer https://observer.globe.govThis is an app-based citizen science initiative launched by NASA to help scientists track the changes in clouds, water, plants to support research in climate change. NASA needs you to photograph clouds as their satellites are passing over your locale.
International Cloud Atlas: https://cloudatlas.wmo.int/home.html This the by far the most awesome, complete, and definitive source of cloud classification and imagery. This is the new digital version released in 2017 by the World Meteorological Organization. The International Cloud Atlas has been in publication since 1896 and is the international standard for professional meteorologists.
Houze’s Cloud Atlashttps://atmos.washington.edu/Atlas/index.html This is the fine work of Professor Robert Houze Jr., University of Washington, Atmospheric Science Dept. In addition to simple diagrams of the ten major cloud types, this “atlas” includes several photographs of each type.
Cliff Mass’s Weather Blog https://cliffmass.blogspot.com Cliff is an atmospheric scientist at U.W., author of The Weather of the Pacific Northwest, and guest meteorologist on KNKX-88.5 FM on Fridays at 9 a.m. right after BirdNote.